Mayo student presents speech for American Legion Oratorical Contest

Fomer Post Commander of Hartsville American Legion Post #53 Jim Ousley, Victoria Penny, and current Post Commander Phil Whittle. Photo by Jana E. Pye

Fomer Post Commander of Hartsville American Legion Post #53 Jim Ousley, Victoria Penny, and current Post Commander Phil Whittle.
Photo by Jana E. Pye

Hartsville American Legion Post #53 proud to sponsor first student in decades

By Jana E. Pye, Editor,

Victoria Penny, senior at Mayo High School for Math, Science & Technology, will represent the Hartsville American Legion Post #53 in this year’s American Legion Oratorical Contest, an academic speaking challenge that has existed since 1938 for high school students.

“We are very pleased to have a student enter the contest,” said Post Commander Phil Whittle. “This is the first student we have had since I have been commander.”

Fomer Post Commander Jim Ousley recalls the last winner was Beth Johnson Cagle, Grassroots Manager for South Carolina American Cancer Society, who competed as a high school student at Hartsville High School, Class of 1995.

Victoria is the daughter of Catrina and Houston Penny of Hartsville.

As a student at Mayo, Victoria is a member of many organizations, including: Beta Club, Math Honor Society Mu Alta Thea, National Honor Society, Chess club, Academic Challenge Team, Leader of the Environmental Club, to name a few. In addition, she also takes college level classes at Francis Marion University.

As Victoria was the only entrant for the local contest, she presented her speech to the members of the American Legion Post #53 and the women American Legion Auxiliary as a practice trial.

She was timed; official rules state the speech must be at least 8 minutes in length, and no more than 10 minutes. After her speech, Victoria was offered critique and advice from the group.

Her speech was wonderfully composed, and shared a great deal of research and knowledge on the U.S. Constitution.

“This is difficult,” said Victoria. “I promise to perfect my delivery, and would like to come back to your next meeting to share my speech with you again.”
Victoria was given an opportunity to give another speech for the second part of the contest, a 3 to 5 minute unprepared speech on a specific Amendment; she was allowed five minutes to gather her thoughts on the Amendment, and shared the second speech.

Members of the Post recalled memorizing poems and speeches as part of their weekly studies as small children.

“Students today don’t often have speech classes in school anymore,” said one veteran. “I think it’s really a shame that they are not taught that today. We all had to do it, whether we liked it or not…and it made us learn to be brave when speaking in front of a crowd.”

Former Post Commander Jim Ousley will accompany the student as she competes in the regional round of the competition.

About the Oratorical Contest

“A constitutional speech contest”

The American Legion Oratorical Contest exists to develop deeper knowledge and appreciation for the U.S. Constitution among high school students. Since 1938, the program has presented participants with an academic speaking challenge that teaches important leadership qualities, the history of our nation’s laws, the ability to think and speak clearly, and an understanding of the duties, responsibilities, rights and privileges of American citizenship. The program has featured numerous politicians and prominent contestants over the years, including former president candidate Alan Keyes and CNN anchor Lou Dobbs.

Young orators earn some of the most generous college scholarships available to high school students. Over $138,000 in scholarships can be awarded each year. The overall national contest winner gets an $18,000 scholarship. Second place takes home $16,000, and third gets $14,000. Each department (state) winner who is certified into and participates in the national contest’s first round receives a $1,500 scholarship. Those who advance past the first round receive an additional $1,500 scholarship. The American Legion’s National Organization awards the scholarships, which can be used at any college or university in the United States.

High school students under age 20 are eligible. Competition begins at the post level and advances to a state competition. Legion department representatives certify one winner per state to the national contest, where department winners compete against each other in two speaking rounds. The contest caps off with a final round that decides the three top finishers.

Speaking subjects must be on some aspect of the U.S. Constitution, with some emphasis on the duties and obligations of citizens to our government. Speeches are eight to 10 minutes long; three- to five-minute speeches on an assigned topic also are part of the contest.

Author: Duane Childers

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